Monday, May 17, 2010

On the Anniversary of my Proposal to Jason

Exactly one year ago, I proposed to Jason and he accepted. Several months later, we got engaged when he proposed to me. If you're confused, trust me when I say we were even more mixed up about the process.

I'd never been comfortable with waiting and passivity inherent in the woman-waits-for-man-to-propose process of engagement, and I felt like it should just be a decision between two people. I wasn't terribly tied to the symbolic act of proposing and I hated the idea of an expensive engagement ring (or of diamonds, mined gems, or mined gold). I felt like, if we'd already agreed that we were right for each other and wanted to get married, that meant we were engaged.

Someone, ahem, didn't quite agree. The symbolism of honoring the relationship with a special proposal was important to Jason. The symbolism of investing in a ring and relationship was important to Jason. And, while he could see my point about the man-asks-woman proposal excluding the woman's agency, it was really important to him to do the asking only once he was truly ready.

I had to respect his needs, especially because that there's a vast difference between knowing you're with the right person and being ready to say yes to marriage. I won't speak for Jason, but with other male friends, I've seen it bound up with feeling like they're at a stable enough point in their professional and personal lives to feel ready to build a life and not just enjoy a relationship with the right person. I understood where Jason was coming from. He's a few years younger than I am, and I couldn't have imagined feeling ready for marriage when I was his age. Of course, I hadn't been in a great long-term relationship at that point but, even so, it would have been hard to picture. Accordingly, I understood his needs and shifted my thinking about the proposal. I knew it was the fair and right thing to wait for him, especially since we were both already secure in Us.

Our specific relationship context challenged both of our notions of engagement. And so, we had to work out new rules that were right for both of us: I had to give him space to figure our when he was ready, he had to respect my general timeframe (which we talked about). I had to respect his desire to buy me a ring, he had to respect my environmental and cost parameters about the ring, and he had to respect my need for this to feel equal by allowing me to propose back to him with an engagement-ring equivalent present of similar value (I secretly decided on tickets and a flight to the Bonnaroo music festival in Tennessee, which he'd always wanted to attend).

As we stumbled through the process of defining an egalitarian proposal that felt right for both of us, the one thing that became clear was that the process of defining our egalitarian wedding and life will be equally defined by trial-and-error confusion.  Working through what our ideals mean in our real-world context is a process of stumbling closer towards our personal truths.  Despite my best attempts to search out role models and feminist success stories related to domestic harmony, I haven't quite been able to find anything that fits our specific needs and situations. Happy feminist marriages abound, of course (I was lucky to be raised by a pretty amazing pair of parents myself) but there's no real roadmap here. There's no standard "feminist/egalitarian proposal" or "feminist/egalitarian wedding" or "feminist/egalitarian marriage" models to help shape our approach.

Instead, our approach has been long, difficult conversations that seek to find the real intent and emotion behind each of our life-desires and symbols in order for us to define (and constantly re-define) the parameters that work for us. While I'm not fan of the definition that feminism = the right to choose your life*, the modern women's movement has certainly blown the lid off gender roles that were easier to define and off life pathways and transitions that had a well-understood trajectory.  We've been left with an overabundance of choice with only our own convictions to guide us. Either of us could stay at home with our future children. Neither of us might stay at home with our future children. We could forgo children altogether. We could split household chores entirely evenly or find new modes that make it work based on work hours, preferred chores, etc. It's all open. Our life is whatever we want it to be, and we haven't quite figured out our notions of equality based on income, time, personal desires, and emotional symbols.

I'm not remotely advocating for a return to prescribed gender expectations (and their limitations) but I'm learning that forging your own path, every darn step of the way, can get exhausting. And then explaining our choices is exhausting all over again, without even accounting for the occasional need to defend them. It's worth it, every step of the way, but it makes these choices surrounding our proposal, our wedding planning, and our life both more difficult and more rewarding.

Our egalitarian process of engagement was long, convoluted, and right for us. Along the way, many of our friends and family have misinterpreted our dismissed our actions or intention, perhaps because it doesn't fit neatly into the standard man-ask-woman framework or the misconceptions of whatever a feminist proposal might look like (unshaven legs, vegetarian dinner, and me browbeating him into agreeing to my every whim, perhaps?) Everyone else's interpretations aside, we've worked out our definition: I proposed one year ago, but we weren't engaged until we'd both engaged in the process and by proposing to each other. I suffered through a few anxious months during which Jason was ordering my ethical stones and having the ring made and before he could put his incredible proposal night plan into place. But by trusting each other, we found ways to trust our own truths. For us, that's all we have. And for us, it's enough.

via Ferran's flickr (creative commons)

*that's a conversation for a different post. Or twenty.


  1. you know what's funny- Andrew asked me and I definitely was NOT ready.... but I said "yes" anyways- with the stipulation that we take at least two years prior to getting married. I also had no idea he was thinking about it- nor that he had planned for 6 months, including ordering my blue opal...

    all-in all it turned out just fine and as we're approaching the wedding date, I feel ready, scared, but ready.

    It has opened up the whole conversations about our views on childraising, television, videogames, schooling, NAMES (ugh the name change thing) etc etc. But I agree with you, feminism does not translate to "right to make our own decision", and figuring out our roles in marriage and life has also been tiring.

    I think, after the wedding, the biggest thing is going to be childrearing. Cuz EVERYONE and their dog has an opinion on THAT one. ANd i know that we are not going to be traditional.

    all i can say is that I'm REALLY glad his parents live a whole province away. need that buffer zone for when the (singular!) child comes along....

    Happy one year engagement anniversary!!! :)

  2. When E and I began talking about getting engaged, I was over rings and proposals, and wanted to just make a joint decision and do the deed. But I had to step outside of myself and think about the fact that E was a product of this culture as well, and he had grown up with the idea of the dude proposing, with a ring, on bended knee.

    And so there was a proposal. And a ring. He made it work in a way that was very us. And then, I proposed back ( It was a way that I felt I was taking some agency back in the process, rather than simply acquiescing to his request. It was nice to experience a proposal from the other side, with some of the nervousness and excitement he'd experienced (although reduced, I'm sure, since we already had a venue and date!).

    He lost the ring I gave him (it was too big, my fault), but I am still glad we did that. Negotiating an engagement that worked for us has helped as we do the same thing on the wedding planning road, and will hopefully help us in the future. And in the meantime, we'll just lose a bit of sleep as we go, due to more of those long conversations that crop up.


  3. I feel that people who examine life from a different angle often have a harder time and take a bit longer in processes like this - and thats totally fine! Our engagement process was a big, crazy and often messy process. But thats ok. Its a learning process.

    As far as other people go... just think about how long it took you and Jason to figure out the details of your engagement. Its not an easy process. So we can't expect everyone outside of that process to immediately understand. Its hard to constantly have to explain and defend our decisions, but that's what comes with new social territory such as this. Its a bummer but thats how it goes.


  4. It's funny, before this blog/finding other similar blogs, I felt like we were so alone in our long-winded, discussion-filled process (and it's pitfalls and difficulties). It's been a relief to know we're not alone in working through these complexities. I really appreciate hearing your stories and support too.

  5. I'd asked The Mister for a no diamonds engagement ring, which he complied with...little did I know the social implications to him. All of a sudden he was cheap because I didn't have a certain gem. Anyhoo, the wedding ring will have conflict-free's in them so he doesn't feel like such a heel.

  6. @happynappybride - I think the social and familial pressures to conform were harder for J than they were on me too. The implications of cheapness, of what it means to be in an egalitarian relationship (ie you're not "the man" in a traditional sense) are really hard to navigate. Although I want to say other peoples' opinions don't matter, it's sometimes harder in practice. We're finding similar ways to manage the balance while staying true to ourselves.

  7. Happy warm fuzzy from this post. Heart you, Becca. And I love how the two of you are together. This is so sweet. xoxo

  8. Ahh the beginnings of the learning and compromise of marriage. I am proud of and requested a pink non-diamond gemstone. I've encountered one haughty remark from some snotty banker mom in NYC but otherwise encountered positive reviews about my unique ring. I beam with pride when I have my ring on.

  9. you and jason rock. it's so refreshing to hear that people had long - in my case, painfully long - discussions about what marriage means, if and why it's important for us, whether we wanted to incorporate certain traditions and why, do we choose diamonds even if they're canadian and the miners are making 100K a year or do we take a stand against many questions, but they're all valid...and in the end, i really think this has been an enlightening learning process that i wouldn't trade for anything.

  10. Happy anniversary. He is a lucky dude.


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